Morning sunlight rakes across the lawn. Lightning flashes in a stormy sky. Moonlight illuminates a garden path. The wonderment of natural light stirs the soul. Electric light, however, stirs the imagination. More than a century ago, over 27 million people were dazzled by the electrical exhibits at the World’s Columbian Exhibition held in Chicago in 1893. The extraordinary displays were created by Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and other innovators. It was the dawn of a new age and the notion of illuminating buildings was elevated to an art form. In 1906 the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (http://ies.org/ ) was founded. Today over 10,000 members consisting of architects, engineers, designers, and educators continue to promote the art and science of lighting.

If you are in the midst of a home improvement project, you know how daunting the selection of lighting can be. The designs are endless and the price points vary from reasonable to exorbitant. We are rejuvenating a home that was built in Newport, Rhode Island in 1811. Incorporating period lighting into our project would entail using candles and whale oil lamps. Fortunately, we are not purists. Instead we plan to install a couple of antique pendant lights and a vintage chandelier we discovered at an antique lighting showroom in Boston. The fixtures celebrate Old World craftsmanship and will enhance the foyer, dining room and master bedroom. We were so impressed with the lighting that I had to share the source.

 

A Fixture in Boston

Tom Powers has owned Genuine Antique Lighting since the 1970s when he first became interested in restoring and selling antique and vintage light fixtures. His 3,000 square-foot showroom and workshop are located in a 19th century brick building located in the historic South End of Boston. His inventory includes a collection of exquisitely restored chandeliers, pendant lights, flush mount lights, sconces, and exterior lanterns that originally distinguished some of the finest homes in the Boston area from 1870 to 1950. If you are not able to make an appointment to visit the showroom, then browse the company’s website that showcases detailed photographs and descriptions. Tom ships his lighting to customers all over the world and his inventory is constantly being refreshed with new treasures from yesteryear.

Tom Powers

Tom Powers

Tom’s knowledge of antique lighting is encyclopedic and he explains, “Early in my career I sold antique furniture, lights and accessories. I developed a particular interest in antique design and its relationship to architectural styles. During that time I started to focus on antique lights. I decided that the assortment of skills needed to properly place restored antique lights in renovated homes was a full-time endeavor and I’ve been exclusively restoring and selling lighting since 1979.”

Tom says, “We are always trying to find something of better quality or of more unusual construction so that we havethat piece that we can say is really not your ordinary fixture but more unusual.” He adds, “We want to transfer our knowledge and experience to the client so they can create their own personal stamp in their home.”

When asked if antique lighting is suitable for modern homes, Tom says, “The integration of details has changed the design of the home interior, which creates a new approach to how antique and vintage lighting design is reflected. We really welcome the chance to have the antique lighting out of the collection we have acquired, to work in these new environments.”

 

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Whether you live a new or period home,Tom believes antique lighting can enhance any decor. Tom explains, “Antique lighting is popular in all rooms of the home from small to large and those with low or high ceilings. For example, inverted domes are wonderful additions to foyers and libraries. Pendants alone or combined with inverted domes have an outstanding appearance in the kitchen suspended over a table or kitchen island. A gas chandelier always makes a statement in the dining room. Let’s not forget flush fixtures, which are a super addition to low ceilings in mudrooms, pantries and stairwells. And sconces definitely enhance hallways and dining rooms when combined with another antique light.”

 

Are Antique Lights Suitable for Your Home?

Antique and vintage light fixtures in a variety of working condition and state of repair can be found in antique shops, flea markets, on eBay and Craigslist. It is important to note that buying an antique light from these venues with its original wiring intact is like playing with fire. Always buy antique lighting from an expert who has restored the fixture so the wiring complies with current safety standards. And always have an electrician properly install the fixture in your home.

Here are three other noted sources that specialize in the restoration and sale of antique and vintage lighting.

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See You in St. Louis

Joshua CarlsonAntique Lighting by Carlson Galleries in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the internet’s largest retailers of vintage and antique lighting devices. The firm specializes in carefully selected antique lighting dating from the 1830s through the 1970s. They also sell lamp finials, shades and parts. Antique Lighting is known for a keen attention to detail throughout the restoration process. The company also offers appraisal and repair services for your antique lighting.

Owner Joshua Carlson learned about antique lighting as a child when he accompanied his parents to numerous auctions throughout the Midwest. He honed his lighting expertise and restoration skills while working as an apprentice with an antiques dealer in St. Louis. Joshua explains that the demand for antique and vintage lighting in both period and new homes continues to grow. He says, “Though we outfit our share of historic homes, antique lighting isn’t just for grandma’s dining room anymore. Clients often seek a unique and artistic lighting focal point in new construction to bring character into the home. Many vintage lighting devices are arguably finely hand-crafted artwork, no different than a fine oil or sculpture.”

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He adds, “The time and artistry committed to producing some of the finest antique chandeliers is obvious in the quality and detail of the final product. The gilded finishes, hand carved woods, and detailed chased bronzes are unlike anything you could find at your local hardware store. If your home requires traditional inspiration with the highest of quality finishes, vintage lighting will exceed your expectations.”

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Northern Lights

Jane MayHarris House Antique Lighting is located in Nova Scotia and is owned and operated by lighting expert Jane May. Her showroom opened in 2010 and she sells authentic early electric lighting, generally from the late 1800s through the late1930s, in a wide variety of architectural styles. Restorer Michael Hames carefully cleans, restores and rewires to code all of their ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, lamps and porch lights. Jane says, “We encourage communication and we are always happy to send as many photos and as much information as is necessary to customers.”

Harris House Antique Lighting ships fixtures throughout the United States and Canada. They also welcome seasonal visitors to their showroom in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. They plan to open a second location on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Jane echoes the sentiment of the other lighting experts. She says, “We probably sell half of our lighting to customers who are either building, renovating or redecorating newer homes. They tell us that everything in the stores is the same and they are looking for something that reflects their personal style. The nearly limitless styles available in antique lighting offer so many more choices, in part because there are years of past styles to choose from. Also, early electric lighting companies offered styles to suit so many different homes, because as electricity became available to more and more areas, the manufacturers found they had many architectural styles from a few centuries of previously un-electrified homes to accommodate. In just the 1920s to 1930s period alone, you’ll find electric lighting suitable for homes of the Arts and Crafts period, Victorian, Dutch Colonial, Gothic Revival, Spanish Revival, Tudor Revival, Art Deco, and the list goes on. Nearly a hundred years later, this gives contemporary homeowners quite an array to choose from, if they know where to look!”

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She adds, “I’ve found the owners of historic homes to be of the same mind. Some, of course, are looking to restore their homes to their former glory, and seek pieces that would come close to what might have originally been installed. Others are of the understanding that owners through the years had different tastes, decors would have changed through the years, and they may well prefer a 1930s slip shade chandelier in their 1890 dining room. To them, it is a matter of what works best with their own personal style.”

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Past Perfected Reproduction Lighting

The past always serves a source for design inspiration and the lighting industry is no exception. If you are looking for period reproduction lighting look no further than Rejuvenation This lighting company was founded in Portland, Oregon by Jim Kelly in 1977 as a specialized junk store selling architectural salvage. Preservation was very important to Kelly and he learned early on that demand often exceeded supply especially for period-authentic light fixtures. Using antique fixtures as models, he started making basic reproduction Victorian and early 20th century ceiling fixtures and wall brackets. The reproductions took off and the array of products expanded with sharp focus on craftsmanship and carefully chosen materials.

 

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Today Rejuvenation still sells both salvaged and new items. Their Salvage department boasts one of the largest collections on the west coast. One of their favorite meetings each month is a product development meeting where the Product Development and the Salvage folks get together to share what they are working on. During this meeting the entire team reviews trends in lighting and what from the past is re-emerging. They then brainstorm what to pick from a salvage perspective and also how salvage finds can help the Product Development team work through the new designs they are tooling with.

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To see the antique light fixtures we have selected for our 1811 Federal home in Newport, R.I. visit Homes of the Brave.